Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Praise effort not intelligence

After reading a lot of the material out there by Carol Dweck, both in the popular media as well as the actual research, it still surprises me that many people out there are reluctant to stop praising kids for how smart they are.

While I was working this morning, I was shocked to hear one mother remark out loud (only to the child - none of her adult friends were around) how smart her toddler was because he put a book back in the bookstore. Those of you who are curious, there is no item on any assessment of intelligence that asks a child to put books away.

I had a copy of Carol Dweck's book, and I dropped it in front of her and walked away.

Praising a person's intelligence only decreases the amount of effort that that person will exert in the future.

People (and children) tend to see intelligence as a fixed, all-or-none concept. I got it or I don't. Some children may distinguish math intelligence from video-game intelligence, but many don't think too deeply about such fine distinctions. These children then reason, "If I am intelligent, then things should come easy to me."

They then do some interesting things. They become invested in maintaining this status of "intelligent" by avoiding things that don't come easy to them. The opposite is true - if a child believes that he or she is not intelligent, they will avoid things that don't come easy to them so as to not confirm this belief, and will usually engage in activities that seem to come easy to them (usually disruptive behavior).

Praising effort leads children to believe that they are in control of their performance. "I failed my math test because I didn't study/ didn't pay attention/ didn't work hard enough" vs. "I failed because I am stupid" are two radically different statements. The first denotes that by changing my effort, I can change performance in the future. The second indicates that there is really nothing more I can do to improve.

So please, stop praising intelligence.

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